How to identify Sloes to make sloe gin etc

How to identify Sloes

How to identify sloes

Botanical drawing can be one way of how to identify sloes

Before you can make your sloe gin, sloe wine or sloe anything then really you have to to know how to identify Sloes.

There was a point when I didn’t know how to identify sloes. In fact I remember picking a bunch of Ivy berrries instead. It was before the days of Youtube and so who know’s how I learned anything! I only wish there had been a friendly forager like myself to hand.

In the UK, across some of Northern Europe and as I descover in this youtube clip even down to South West France (near the Dordogne) you will find the Sloe. There are more rare in the States but they do grow. They were one of the plants used to mark boundries after the enclosures act and so you’ll often find them on the edges of fields or to mark other land borders. In France they were in abundance, often on the outskirts of what looked like dissused and overgrown farmland.

The sloe grows on the blackthorn bush. These are easily identifiable due to their inch long black thorns. They are a wild form of plum and so expect the bush to look like a miniture plum tree. They will have slightly serated leaves. But don’t be fooled, sometimes the thorns are hard to find. Also, to confuse matters further you might find something bigger than a sloe, a bullace or a damson. Cut it open and look for a pip that looks like a plum. Follow this up with an image search.

Expect to find blossom in the spring and the fruit from around July/August onwards, green at first then turning black. They can hang around on the bush right up to the blossom comes out.

You could also nip down to your local botanical garden. In fact this is what I do when I really want to nail what a plant looks like. Most major cities will have one, some are as part of parks and some of the bigger ones are gardens in their own right. Kew gardens is one of the best examples in my opinion and if you haven’t been, you should get yourself down there and have a wander. It helps to know the latin name in the case of the Sloe this is Prunus spinosa.

When to pick sloes?

As soon as they are black. Wack them in the freezer then stick them in your gin!

 Still don’t know how to identify sloes?

Please feel free to comment below if you still don’t know how to identify a sloe berry and I’ll see if I can help.

Andy Hamilton

Brewer, forager, broadcaster, spaceman occasional liar

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